Just about anyone can create an e-Learning course on a soft skills topic. You gather up the right information and some relevant and clever animated images or pictures. You follow the established instructional design protocol of ADDIE (analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation) and then present your content to the learner and ta-da! you have a course.
There are probably a hundred thousand e-Learning courses produced this way that are available for your employees to enjoy. The problem is, and I am sure you already know this, they don’t. They hate them. They are painful to use. Learners glaze over when forced to take them and speed through them as quickly as they can, just to mark completion.
I am going to let you in on a little secret. This is a realization that came to me decades ago when I was part of the team that built the first video-based learning simulation ever delivered (we had to wheel the desktop computers in on carts back then). Content does not change behavior. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter. Ok, your content has to be accurate; that is a given. But accurate content is easy to find everywhere. Just because you have factually correct content doesn’t mean your course will transform your workforce.
What does matter? How you present content to your audience. Engagement moves the needle. Most talent development professionals care about two things. First, that they keep the legal office happy and check the compliance box. Second, and much more important, is that employee attitudes, behaviors and on-the-job performance improve. Learning professionals do not deserve a seat at the c-suite table unless they deliver meaningful results to the bottom line and health of the business. The litmus test for evaluating the quality of one learning module, or thousands, should be the same.
Fortunately, rapidly advancing technologies have opened the doors to reimagining three powerful techniques. So let’s look at the big three; story, video and interactivity. Each of these tools can make an impact, but when all three are properly integrated, they deliver learning experiences that are engaging, unforgettable and transformative.
Since the beginning of time, people in all societies have used stories to share knowledge and experiences and to influence the actions of others. Storytelling is universal, and some say it is one of the unifying elements of humankind. Good stories become personal to the receiver as well as the sharer, because each person sees a little bit of himself or herself in every story.
Hearing a story triggers physical changes in the brain. Unlike slides that activate only the small part of the brain that decodes words into meaning, engaging stories are known to “light up” the entire brain. The same areas that are activated by actually living an experience are activated when watching, reading, or hearing a story.
Video brings stories to life by showing events rather than just describing them in a narrative. No other medium simultaneously engages the cognitive and affective learning domains as well as video. As Richard Dreyfus once said, “No one dreams in avatars.”
For evidence of how people enjoy video, we need look no further than the millions of YouTube views or social media posts online. When people want to learn how to do something on their own, they flock to YouTube videos.
In addition to its unique ability to engage on multiple levels, video is the perfect medium for modeling behaviors and consequences. It allows learners not just to hear and visualize events but also to vicariously experience them. You can see this phenomenon in action in this video.
Training professionals agree there is power in learning programs that allow users to control their experiences and explore variations on “what if?” Visionary leaders now also recognize that the real interactivity of a program is not “clicks per minute.” Instead, the best interactive programs are those that “grab” learners and keep them engaged.
It should go without saying – and has been repeatedly demonstrated – that when learners are emotionally engaged, they retain more information. There is strong evidence that interactive learning experiences have as much positive impact on performance as real-life experiences – and in some cases, possibly even more.
Good storytelling increases learning, and great video brings a story to life. Interactive video puts learners in control of their experiences and enables exploration of “what ifs.” When these elements are properly woven together, learning becomes magic. As the icon Marshall McLuhan said 30 years before the invention of the World Wide Web, “the medium is the message.”
About the Author: Sharon Sloane
Sharon Sloane, a pioneer in the field of advanced instructional design, is the President and CEO of WILL Interactive. She has 30 years of experience developing leading edge instructional systems for behavior modification and performance improvement.
Training programs designed by Sharon have been featured in "Simulations and the Future of Learning," "Digital Game-Based Learning," "Training and Simulation Journal," "Time Magazine," "New York Times," "Washington Post," and "Washington Times" and on NBC TV and CNN. They have won over 70 awards, and she is the first instructional designer to be chosen as a Women in Film and Video “Woman of Vision.”
Sloane holds a master's degree in counseling from the University of Connecticut and a BS in education from Boston University.